After a 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 10, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans in Week 11. The Titans are coming of their own embarrassing loss, a 29-27 loss to the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, both teams are looking to rebound in Thursday night's AFC South battle. The question is, what team will, and whose season will continue to head down a darker path.
The Colts (6-3) have plenty of weaknesses that were evident in their loss to St. Louis. Losing wide receiver Reggie Wayne to injury has been an obstacle that the Colts have yet to overcome. They were able to get a few big plays from wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the second half of their win over Houston, but outside of that, they have been stagnant.
The defense's inconsistent play has put them in big holes early and will continue to be less than reliable.
The Titans (4-5) had a chance to pull within a game of the Colts for first place in the division. Unfortunately, the loss to Jacksvonville kept them two games back.
The Titans also lost quarterback Jake Locker for the season with a foot injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick will replace Locker and is a decent backup quarterback, but the offense simply doesn't have the explosiveness to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenses.
So how will Indianapolis attack Tennessee Thursday? Find out in this week's game plan!
Offense: Run Smarter
I discussed this earlier this week, but the Colts absolutely have to have some threat on the ground in order for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense to work.
While quarterback Andrew Luck is clearly the best option for the Colts offensively, he cannot bear the weight of every single play being on his shoulders—not with the current offensive line and lack of weapons, anyway.
Hamilton's offense is designed to use the power-run and quick passes to take advantage of defensive uncertainty, but it's currently not creating any uncertainty due to its complete lack of success in the run game.
Unless Hamilton is going to completely redesign the offense (the option that I would prefer but don't expect at this point in the season, obviously), the only way for the Colts to find even semi-consistent success is going to be by re-establishing some balance.
This will be especially true against Tennessee, a team that is 24th against the run, according to Football Outsiders, while 12th against the pass. If they only have to worry about the pass against Indianapolis, they will be able to stop the Colts with relative ease.
How can the Colts discover that success on the ground again? Let's take a look at the film to find out.
The only running play that was successful against the Rams came not in a power-running formation but shotgun with three receivers. I'd like it even more if Coby Fleener was split out as well. Fleener is a below-average blocker and does more damage to the defense when he's pulling defenders away from the ball.
Even with Fleener in the picture, the Rams only have six men in the box, and Richardson is able to gain five yards on the play.
Contrastingly, you have this gem from earlier in the game.
The Colts lined up with two tight ends, and the Rams responded with eight men in the box on 3rd-and-short. The Colts only have seven blockers for eight defenders, and Brown is taken down two yards deep in the backfield.
Now, the Colts did try to run out of three-wide sets a few times Sunday but were unsuccessful for several before the Richardson draw in the third quarter. Most of those in the first half were unsuccessful because either Richardson was too slow to get to the edge on outside runs or because one offensive lineman got beat terribly on the play.
It's a small sample size from the Rams debacle, and I'd expect more success in the future from those sets.
If they can run smarter offensively, it will open up other things for them. Defense isn't necessarily about a particular strategy change, it's simply an improvement in consistency that has to happen.
The Colts cannot afford to allow multiple long touchdowns like they did against St. Louis. Not only does this hurt the Colts on the scoreboard, but putting themselves in a deep hole hurts their flexibility offensively.